When the facts don’t tell the whole story, we need more of them.
One truth is that the city has engaged in a robust police reform program driven by Mayor Joe Hogsett, the city-county council President Vop Osili, Indianapolis Metropolitan Police Department (IMPD) leadership and community organizations.
From community conversations helping citizens speak their truth, implicit bias trainings, reviewing and updating use of force policies, the creation of an IMPD Office of Diversity and Inclusion, the appointment of a majority person of color merit board, placing body cameras in the city-county budget, increased racial diversity in the merit ranks, some historically diverse IMPD recruit classes, a searchable database for police complaints and posting of general orders — you could be forgiven for not knowing all of the changes that have happened within IMPD.
In fact, the long sought after use of force board with full citizen participation was just announced this week.
But there’s still work to do.
The body cameras are late in implementation and current state law does not allow for the transparency the community wants — we won’t be able to see the videos in a timely fashion.
There is a world of difference between “monitoring” an investigation and a multi-agency investigation. (Hint: It is fundamentally different for the FBI or state police to announce they found a gun on a deceased victim at the scene of an IMPD involved fatal shooting versus IMPD saying it.)
What hasn’t yet occurred includes the review of the Citizens Police Complaint Board process and bringing back the Indianapolis Commission on African American Males. It should not take another tragedy for these long sought after actions to occur.
Despite these reforms, police action shootings did not go away, although available data suggests they declined by 95% over six years.
In 2014, there were 42 incidents when an IMPD officer discharged their weapon. Since 2014 there have been 124 incidents with twice as many Black victims (81) as white victims (40). The vast majority of the 124 incidents since 2014 did not result in death.
But between 2018 and 2019 there were five incidents — five in two years.
Some might argue that a 95% decrease in police shootings in six years is impressive — but that’s not all of the data.
Each incident is exponentially more than a data point — too often there is a story of a devastated Black family.
Community activists and leaders should note the progress, but when a police officer takes a life our community is understandably concerned — even outraged that we don’t get the benefit of the doubt.
There is also the trauma of nearly constant tragic death in our community.
Losing Black young lives, whether it is 8-year-old Rodgerick Payne Jr and 16-year-old Nya Cope to community violence is traumatic. I’m fundamentally concerned about Black people dying — I want us talking about community reforms like we talk about police reforms, especially when we lose young people.
But there is also a sense that when young Black males like Dreasjon Reed and McHale Rose lose their lives and police are involved, past injustices compel us to not trust the presented “why.”
Collectively, we haven’t forgotten Michael Taylor and Aaron Bailey’s death and the reforms that did and didn’t happen looms large now.
Plus, we already work so hard trying to tell our Black males what to do in police interactions.
Tragically, both Reed and Rose made decisions that we tell our young Black men not to make — because too often Black men can’t tell their side of the story when an officer fears for his life.
We are aware of the unforgiving rules Black males face that white males do not.
This too is a trauma. I witnessed some of the last moments of both young men and I wanted both of them out of those situations.
I won’t judge them for the social media posts or even their penultimate moments. No one deserves to be judged in their worst moments.
Running from the police by itself may be a crime, but the rules can’t be Black males face the possibility of death with white males enjoying impunity.
But as the brother of a police officer, I know officers want to go home too.
At some point, a set of facts will emerge and matter. As a community, we need to wait for all of the facts.
Wait for the investigation, support the family as they ask questions. Wait for the facts.
What I am hearing …
Protests are the language of the unheard, but the egos and tactical mistakes have made it difficult for the community to be heard in the protests.
Local grassroots leaders have fought each other and by multiple accounts don’t seem to have a plan.
There is also concern that individuals from outside of the community have hi-jacked gatherings potentially putting women and possibly children at risk.
Protests can be an effective tool. My hope is that egos can be set aside for the good of the community. I also hope we continue finding ways to protect ourselves from COVID-19 even as we seek the facts.
Marshawn Wolley is a lecturer, commentator, business owner and civic entrepreneur. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.